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'Homeland' review: Surprisingly quiet, thoughtful season

Claire Danes stars as Carrie Mathison in Showtime's

Claire Danes stars as Carrie Mathison in Showtime's "Homeland." Credit: SHOWTIME/Antony Platt

THE SERIES “Homeland”

WHEN|WHERE Season 7 finale, Sunday at 9 p.m. on Showtime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Russian superspy Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin) has smuggled lover and collaborator Simone Martin (Sandrine Holt) back to Moscow, with Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) in pursuit. But the real trouble is in Washington, where President Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) has been deposed by Vice President Ralph Warner (Beau Bridges) and his eager co-conspirator Sen. Sam Paley (Dylan Baker) over the suspicion that she killed a rival general. Carrie needs Simone to prove the Russians were behind the murder. The finale was not available for review.

MY SAY The last time we checked in with “Homeland,” Moscow was in full meltdown. In fact — or as expected — Carrie was in town. Doing what she always does in the climactic episode, she'd hatched a crazy scheme to extract Simone from a security forces stronghold just a mile from the Kremlin. This crazy scheme actually worked. 

What “Homeland” gave fans last week was a terrific potboiler that offered a shot of retributive justice with a cathartic chaser. If Russians are going to hack us, they have Carrie Mathison to answer to.

But this wild wrap masks what's been mostly a surprisingly quiet, thoughtful seventh season. “Homeland” always finds a way to channel the zeitgeist (this time, Russian hacking, and a female president beset by sexism and the culture wars) but the best seasons are guided by a larger idea. This one certainly was.

Both fans and show had to grapple with a gaping absence — Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) — but as the season went on, it also became clear he had no place within this larger idea, or would have just gotten in its way. The seventh was the woman's season, about female empowerment and disempowerment. Peter always had a habit of saving Carrie. This season she needed to save herself.

In one of the most wrenching scenes of “Homeland's” entire run — the end of the ninth episode — Carrie suffered a complete psychotic break and viewers were later left to wonder whether the entire season had been her own personal fever dream. But as she was screaming and cowering in a corner, with her doppelgänger standing menacingly over her, that guiding idea came into sharp focus:

At war with herself, notably over her conflicting roles as mother, patriot and savior, Carrie and her bipolar disorder became a metaphor for the country's breakdown. If Yevgeny's treacherous social media trick — the doctored picture of the white supremacist's son on a hospital gurney — could tear the United States apart, then what hope does Carrie have? Quinn's helping hand wouldn't be there this time. Carrie was on her own, the country too.

And if, in creating President Keane, “Homeland” producers assumed Hillary Clinton would be the next U.S. president, then that was the luckiest mistake of the whole TV year. Marvel turned in a magnificent performance as the beleaguered commander-in-chief who crawled deeper inside herself because there was nowhere — or no one — else to crawl. A veteran stage performer, Marvel as Keane played to the room, not to a national TV audience. Her physical gestures were clipped and precise; her eyes narrowed to slits when someone else screwed her over.

She stifled either a laugh or a scream when her vice president told her “it doesn't have to be such a snake pit, Elizabeth. . . . It really doesn't.” In fact, she survived a coup, an assassination attempt, Russian interference, a cabinet revolt, and an almost constant stream of patronizing put-downs. Recall Dar Adal's (F. Murray Abraham) sneering dismissal last season: “There's something wrong with that woman." 

The parallels between Keane and Carrie were obvious, and both were essentially the same story told from a different angle.. Both women in positions of power, both were left scrambling to save their jobs, their identity, their self-esteem, their dignity and ultimately themselves. The guys never had it this hard.

BOTTOM LINE Yes, Quinn was missed and always will be, but even he might agree: This was a pretty good season.

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